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Water companies unite on the road to net zero

This article was first published on Global Cause as part of the #FutureofWaterCampaign2021

As momentum builds ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow this November, water companies around the world are being called on to join forces and transform their approach to tackling the emissions associated with supplying water to billions of homes every year.

Spearheaded by the UK water industry trade body, the aim is to encourage providers of water and wastewater services to make a commitment to achieving net zero on their operational emissions by 2030.

A tipping point for change

Led by the High-Level Climate Champions for Climate Action – Nigel Topping and Gonzalo Muñoz – Race to Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero-carbon recovery. All members of the Race to Zero are committed to the same overarching goal: to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible, and by 2050 at the very latest.

While significant change is already underway, progress must now accelerate in all areas of the economy and society in order to deliver a resilient zero carbon world in time. It is with this in mind that the High-Level Climate Champions have launched the Race to Zero Breakthroughs, setting out the near-term targets that must be reached in the next decade by the nearly 30 sectors that make up the global economy.

Nigel Topping, High-Level Climate Champion for COP26, says: “We cannot win the Race to Zero emissions by racing alone. Private sector leaders will need to work in partnership and commit their skills, ingenuity and resources to achieving these crucial Breakthroughs – and I’m delighted to see the water industry leading the way.”

Launched at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda with Al Gore, COP President Designate Alok Sharma and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, the water Breakthrough aims to mobilise major water companies responsible for 20% of global water supply, with the aim to deliver full decarbonisation of water and wastewater services in 20 countries by 2030.

Christine McGourty, CEO of Water UK, says: “We’re incredibly proud to be playing our part in the Race to Zero and to be in a position to share our journey towards a decarbonised water supply for customers.

“We don’t have all the answers, but I’m confident that by working together as a sector and across the community of policy-makers, regulators and environmental experts, we can go further and faster on net zero.”

Case study: a sector-wide approach to net zero

Water companies in the UK have almost halved operational emissions since 2011 through a combination of energy efficiency measures, renewable energy and the production of biomethane from sewage treatment processes.

In November 2020, the industry published its Net Zero 2030 Routemap. Using over a decade’s worth of sector-level emissions data, the Routemap provides a view of what the sector’s journey to net zero may look like. It highlights a number of potential pathway scenarios designed to guide the development of detailed net zero action plans at an individual company level.

The Routemap identifies a variety of technologies and initiatives that may be needed including the production of biomethane from sewage waste; the deployment of new renewables capacity to meet 80% of the sector’s electricity demand; the restoration of 20,000 hectares of owned peatland and grassland; the planting of 11 million trees; the electrification of 100% of passenger vehicles; and transition of 80% of commercial vehicles (LGVs and HGVs) to alternative fuels.

Find out more about the Race to Zero and register your interest in joining the campaign.